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Teens who Bring Good Dreams to Life

written by Christine Duvivier 12 September 2008

Christine Duvivier, MAPP '07 and Cornell MBA, is a positive change speaker and mentor who helps her clients unleash hidden talents, develop skills, and take practical steps to achieve higher levels of happiness and success. In her career at DuPont, Eli Lilly, and DEC, she learned to lead with positive alignment and release what holds us back. Christine's model builds on strengths, challenges myths, and cultivates possibility in each individual, even if they are not currently "A" players. Web site. Email. Full bio. Christine's articles are here.

Imagine you were asked to help improve the future prospects of Jill, a high school junior with a GPA of 2.0 who daydreams in English, History, and Spanish. What would you advise Jill to do?

a) Get screened for a learning disability and, if needed, take medication to focus.
b) Visualize a report card with all “A”s.
c) Both a and b.
d) Keep on dreaming.
e) None of the above.

If you answered, “keep on dreaming,” congratulations. You may already know that daydreaming can lead to better life satisfaction by improving relationships and boosting creativity. If not — or if you answered a, b, c, or e, please read on.

Daydreaming Leads to Relationships, Creativity

Daydreaming may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of ways to improve your love life, but this is one of the surprising scientific findings cited by author Jonah Lehrer a couple of weeks ago in his article “Daydream Achiever” (Lehrer, p. C3). By imagining a variety of scenarios and testing them in our minds, we role-play internally and then take action in our real-lives to create the relationships we want.

Scientists have also found that daydreaming fosters abstract thinking, says Lehrer, by allowing us to make the new connections and develop the new ideas that are the heart of creativity.

Ask Arthur Fry. Arthur was a daydreamer and one day in church, instead of listening to the sermon, his mind went off on a tangent. He started thinking about the paper scraps he used for bookmarks and how they were always falling out of his hymn book (Lehrer, C1).

Now it may be that Arthur missed an important message from his minister that day, but let’s all give thanks for his distraction — it brought us the eternally useful Post-it® Notes.

Creativity and Economic Success

Fry’s creative new idea not only gave us walls covered with colorful reminders, it gave the 3M company more than $1 Billion a year in revenue, reports Greg Beato. This is just one example of the link between creativity and economic success. Professor Richard Florida says that the “creative class” is now the fastest-growing part of our economy and will continue to be our decisive economic advantage in the future. The core professions in this class range from technology to sports to the arts and they develop best in communities that foster diversity— of ideas, cultures, interests, and abilities (Florida, 2002).

This is great news for all teens — but especially for those in what I affectionately term “The Bottom 80″— those who are not in the top 20% of their classes. I found that students in “The Bottom 80” have the strengths and gifts to thrive in the dynamic world Florida describes (see www.positiveleaders.com for more details).

It could also be good news for students like Jill, the high school daydreamer in question at the start of this article. In a world where connecting diverse ideas is a crucial competitive advantage, you’d expect daydreamers to be revered. Sadly, though, this is not yet the case. Adolescents who daydream are often seen as unmotivated, underachievers, or problems that need to be “fixed,” tutored, or medicated.

What’s Wrong Right with Daydreaming Teens?

Daydreaming Golden Apples

Daydreaming Golden Apples

When you think about it, daydreaming is paying attention— it’s giving your attention to something more engaging than the reality in front of you at the moment. That’s what happens with ADD students, for example. Their distraction doesn’t mean they can’t focus on anything — just the opposite, in fact: they actually hyper-focus, becoming absorbed in activities they find so intriguing that they cannot give attention to anything else around them according to expert Ned Hallowell, M.D. (Hallowell, 1995) So what would you guess is a top strength in ADD teens? Creativity, of course.

Imagine what would happen if we stopped looking at what’s “wrong” with daydreaming students — and started seeing what’s right with them?* It is when they are not interested in a topic — or they are more interested in something else — that they daydream…and make creative connections, as Arthur Fry did on that fateful Sunday morning.

What if — instead of focusing on how to make these students listen in class, get better grades or go to a “great” college — we encourage them to bring good dreams to life?



Beato, Greg (2005). Twenty-Five Years of Post-It Notes. Retrieved on September 6, 2008 from: http://www.rakemag.com/reporting/features/twenty-five-years-post-it-notes-0#adjump

Duvivier (2007). Appreciating Beauty in the Bottom 80. University of Pennsylvania: Capstone, August 1. Retrieved on September 3, 2008 from: www.positiveleaders.com/studyresults.html

Florida, R. (2002). The Rise Of The Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community And Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books.

Hallowell, E., & Ratey, J. (1995). Driven To Distraction : Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood. New York: Touchstone.

Lehrer, J. (2008). Daydream Achiever. Boston Sunday Globe, August 31, pp. C1-3.

* Inspired by Dewitt Jones’ film, “Celebrate What’s Right with the World” (2007).

Daydreaming Girl courtesy of Kr B,
Post-It from Wikipedia,
Daydreaming of Golden Apples courtesy of h.koppdelaney

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Senia Maymin 14 September 2008 - 12:46 am

Neat example about Arthur Fry.

I have actually in the past bought ‘daydreaming workbooks’ – they are a fascinating way to pass an afternoon with a friend. I got mine at Powell’s bookstore near Portland, OR. I think used bookstores would have these kind of fun books.

Nicholas Hall 14 September 2008 - 8:14 pm

I daydreamed a lot in my spanish class!!
I wonder if schools gave a part of the day, or twice per day, to daydreaming… (or, I’m sure they’d like to call it “creativity class.”) More than art class or music class, something a bit more directly creative. I wonder if many of those “top 20’s” would flounder in such a class. Doesn’t such creativity require and make more connections in the brain than typical english and math classes?
Cool article!

Sherri Fisher 15 September 2008 - 8:52 am

Once a school turns daydreaming into a class it will cease to be an escape, I bet. It will be work! The idea of creativity, though, is important.

Schools are institutions, and especially public schools are governed by highly complex webs of curriculum frameworks, funding controls and mandates. We can come up with all sorts of great ideas for education based on research, but it is important to remember that miracles in the lab are very difficult to translate into a classroom and its needs for measuring learning. Carol Dweck is among those who have shown such a connection. Roger Goddard (et. al.) is another (http://www.centerforcsri.org/files/CenterIssueBriefOct07.pdf)

A certain amount of standardization is required in schools since they are not usually places where anarchy is valued! Figuring out how to find the right mix of imposed change (like making creativity a class) and allowed change (beginning the shift to thinking of daydreaming as potentilly valuable) is part of this challenge.


Sherri Fisher 15 September 2008 - 9:12 am

Hi, Christine-

I like this very much from your article–

“Imagine what would happen if we stopped looking at what’s “wrong” with…students — and started seeing what’s right with them?* It is when they are not interested in a topic — or they are more interested in something else — that they daydream…and make creative connections…

What if — instead of focusing on how to make these students listen in class, get better grades or go to a “great” college — we encourage them to bring good dreams to life?”

Yes, that is the goal! The trick is how to get this started. It’s a trick that, like Alicia Sacramone’s balance beam routine in the Olympics, may require years of training and development and then…oops.

Creating a school culture which will support this kind of change must be part of the package. (See September 5 PPND)

Ned Hallowell once described ADD as not a deficit of attention but a surplus of it: everything is potentially interesting! Classroom teachers call this “focusing difficulties.” In the current school climate, a teacher’s job is to teach and students are to learn. Many approaches have come and gone to try to rectify this or at least make it more flexible. Meanwhile the law requires a “free appropriate public education” and not a flexible or individualized one.

But we are working on that!

Christine Duvivier 15 September 2008 - 2:30 pm

Hi Nick,

I love your idea of valuing creative time — and I imagine you’re right about it requiring more connections than a typical HS class. I took a Behavioral Decision Theory class in my MBA program and we did something on creativity– there are people who make many more connections in 60 seconds than the rest of us. I was impressed. I hope we’ll find a way to encourage these students in the normal school environment.
— Christine

Christine Duvivier 15 September 2008 - 2:32 pm

Hi Sherri,

You have a wealth of knowledge and experience about the schools– thanks for sharing it! I agree– no easy task to make formal changes in the short run, but I hope we can change attitudes, especially among parents, teachers, counselors, and the kids themselves. That would be a fabulous start. Teens and parents feel such relief when they realize the student is fine the way he/she is.
— Christine

Christine Duvivier 15 September 2008 - 2:33 pm

Senia– I never heard of the daydreaming workbooks before but they sound great. I’m going to find them! Thanks for letting me know– and no wonder you’re such a creative person yourself.
— Christine

Kathryn Britton 15 September 2008 - 3:16 pm

Christine, You remind me of research by Elizabeth G. Cohen on cooperative education and the effects of status on learning. She is (was?) professor of the Sociology of Education at Stanford. If you google her, several books on designing cooperative education show up.

Here are a couple of quotations from a keynote speech that she gave in 2002 — http://www.iasce.net/publications/manchester_keynote.shtml

“In an equitable classroom, it is necessary to design cooperative tasks so that different students can contribute different skills and abilities. If tasks are what I call “multiple ability,” then those students who are advanced in academic achievement will contribute some but not all the relevant skills. Newcomers will also be able to make important contributions. This calls for broadening the nature of the curriculum so that it includes a much wider range of human intelligence. For example, making up a skit, or creating a model, or introducing a problem of creative, imaginative thinking requires skills and multiple intellectual abilities found in many different students. Those children who are verbally precocious may be quite unable to handle a spatial-visual task. Thus no one student will be superior at all aspects of these multiple ability tasks and every one is likely to show skill at some features of these tasks.”

“Those who say very little and those whose opinions are not sought or are ignored will be seen as lacking the ability to make significant contributions. This will occur even though a careful observation and listening to the low-status students may reveal that they have relevant and important ideas.”

Her thoughts about status really hit a nerve for me. I see the same dynamics in work settings. I’ve been a low status member of some teams and a high status member of others over the course of my career. It makes a tremendous difference to feeling able to contribute.


SteveM 16 September 2008 - 11:44 am


Great points. Now you got me thinking.

I provide facilitation services for clients among other things. And a very valuable collaboration tool I use is electronic GroupWare. The term “GroupWare” and “Decision “Support” now have variable meanings because they’ve been hijacked by the IT guys who claim they mean whatever you want them to mean.

But the flavor I’m talking about is a shared collaborative work space. Participants have individual laptops and the facilitator manages content via a projection screen. The process is a combination of face-to-face conversation and electronic idea/comment capture. Brainstorming and ideation can take place anonymously, which removes the elements of status and extroversion that may inhibit robust dialog. It’s more than a threaded conversation because content management is dynamic. And ideas can be aggregated and voted upon electronically. So there is some closure.

I’ve found conversational quality and efficiency improved by an order of magnitude when I use the tools. It does take a skilled facilitator to manage the process with adults because stakeholders often have complex unspoken agendas so I have to work around the politics. And there are other aspects of issue management that are oblique but important to parse out.

The software though is very expensive. But if the price problem can be taken care of, I think a good teacher could easily be taught the facilitation techniques to manage kids since she has the “command presence” to begin with. Yeah, this would be great technique so support implicit PP and team building type exercises in the classroom.

Hmmm… Pardon my utilitarian motives, but how to make a buck on this…?

Kathryn Britton 16 September 2008 - 3:12 pm


Thanks for validating the importance of status from your experiences.

If you want to make a buck off anything sold to schools, you need to be thinking of the vanilla wafer business model – huge quantities, low price points.

But there is a difference. In business, the point is getting the job done — which means a tool that makes contributions anonymous and opens up the breadth and quality of the conversation can be very valuable.

In schools, the product is a means to an end, not an end. The point is learning the material AND learning to get along. So anonymity wouldn’t help a teacher demonstrate that quiet or low status people are actually substantial contributors. In fact, in some ways that might make things worse because other students might assume that smart remarks came from particular people.

I have thought some about leveling the playing field in business settings. For example, a meeting coordinator could ask the opinions of quiet people — perhaps warning them a minute or so early by instant messaging — and then leave some quiet in the conversation for them to speak up. My research partner was an INTP — she felt that all the E’s in the world took up the airtime — and couldn’t wait for her to get her thoughts right. So what about some culturally approved moments of silence for thoughts to arise?

While many work efforts are multi-ability tasks, there is still a tendency to associate different status levels with different sorts of contributions. This reminds me of the Virginian in Owen Wister’s novel, who felt that his boss didn’t perceive his value and took a long trip to make his contributions apparent by their absence. There are a lot of jobs where people’s contributions are only apparent in their absence — e.g., when something goes wrong.

I’d love to hear about other experiences you’ve had as a facilitator dealing with status differences.


Christine Duvivier 16 September 2008 - 3:20 pm


Thank you so much for letting me know about Elizabeth Cohen’s work! As for “low status” contributions, there is a very low-tech facilitation tool I use in business, called “LP.” In the classroom, one of the teachers I interviewed observed that because her classroom had a high degree of diversity (academic, ethnic, economic…) the kids were highly respectful and inclusive. She contrasted it with middle school classrooms where she taught in an affluent suburb with little diversity and “leveling.”

SteveM 16 September 2008 - 5:42 pm


You make great points. The process does require a little elaboration. First of all, GroupWare not a panacea. It’s an enabling mechanism for effective collaboration.

If a “meta-objective” is getting good contributions from all participants, then it’s effective at its most basic level. So the upside barrier to value creation is low.

Effective facilitation is radically critical for process success. That’s why most organizational GroupWare implementations fail. The managers who take ownership of the meetings are lousy facilitators even with the software.

Let me extend that last point of effective facilitation to the classroom and your observation and show you how it works.

Say the class is using the GroupWare for team building practice and the topic is “How can we earn money for our class trip?” And the kids brainstorm and toss out ideas electronically for 5 minutes.

Then the teacher organizes the content and starts working through it item by item. An effective teacher-facilitator would asking probing questions for each idea. But slyly, in order to get the class’s gut feel for idea quality. So say she comes to one they like, and she says,

“It sounds like you think this is a really good idea. Yes?” Nods her head seeking verbal validation. Then, “Can I ask who “owns” this one?” Using this dialog dance, she is raising the anonymity curtain AFTER the quality of the idea has been roughly validated. If the idea owner wants to remain anonymous, that’s her choice. But introverted or not, she gets a pride bump from the implied atta-girl. I’m sure you see through the transparent tactic.

Incidentally, with the GroupWare, a Phase II is inserted which asks for Pros and Cons of the ideas selected for further exploration. This is a great technique for fleshing out what the alternative space really looks like. And more importantly, surfaces follow on action items.

If a class trip idea is “Sell Cookies”. And a Con is “Where we going to get cookies” then the action item becomes “Cookie Resourcing, make or buy?” with implied research. It’s amazing how often groups (almost always) skip the part that requires actually investing energy and effort to get things done.

One comment about dealing with introverts. It’s not dangerous but let’s say difficult prodding introverts for comments. Because that may expose them and make them really uncomfortable, even with a heads up. The first thing to try is to take the gas-bags aside during a break and suggest they refrain from monopolistic gas-baggery. In a tactfull way of course that keeps their egos fully inflated 🙂

And then when the group reconvenes, the facilitator makes a general reminder to the ENTIRE group that feedback from all is appreciated and keeps her fingers crossed.

Your idea certainly has merit but I think applied after the tactics less threatening to the introverts have proven not to have worked.


P.S. I was a research chemist in a former life. The thing I liked about working with molecules was that they weren’t emotional.

Jocelyn 22 September 2008 - 4:23 pm


Thanks for sharing this thread. Three really interesting ideas: status adjustments in teaching (school or business), getting introverts to participate and or leaving space for them to participate, and groupware applications to faciliate getting the ideas all on the table.

On the education piece, I’d love to recommend a colleague in the U.K.: Jenny Fox Eades who is now with CAPP and Alex Linley. She’s a former special needs teacher who has done amazing applications of PP in stressed community schools with fabulous success. She likely has some interesting insights on the status question and how to level the playing field. She’s authored three books on her work with the latest published by CAPP press. I think she’s running a call about her strengths work in schools later this week through CAPP.

As a committed introvert who extraverts for living 😉 I feel that the concern about introvert participation may be a bit overdrawn. Steve’s comment might be construed to see introversion as a weakness instead of simply a different way to relate to people and ideas.

In my own experiece, how comfortable the introverts are may depend on at least some of the following: the group type, the organization/team culture (some value introversion over extraversion preferences), the political tone of the meeting, amount and type of collaborative history on the team, how different/innovative ideas are generally received, advance preparation (to what extent, with what advance timing), complexity and newness of issues presented (is the question before the introvert one that’s part of a continuing conversation where they may more readily be ready to think and talk and how complex is the issue. more complexity and newness likely requiring more thinking time for the introvert and therefore a need to make space and provide time for that process to be completed; possibly even deferring a decision until the think time is complete). I’m sure there are other considerations not yet coming to mind.

I’ve used groupware in limited applications and it is quite useful to get the whole story out on the table and to get input from everyone, regardless of status. Super,too for brainstorming.



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